Utopia - Pov

Utopia – POV

86 / 100

By 1985 Utopia were back to their very best AOR form, but sadly they had never recovered commercially from 1980’s ill advised Beatles parody ‘Deface The Music’.

Written by: Lee South Africa

ARTIST: Utopia
LABEL: Passport
SERIAL: PB 6044 (LP), PBCD 6044 (CD)
YEAR: 1985
CD REISSUE: Discogs Reissue List

LINEUP: Todd Rundgren – lead vocals, guitars * Kasim Sulton – bass, vocals * Roger Powell – keyboards * Willie Wilcox – drums

TRACK LISTING: 01 Play This Game * 02 Style * 03 Stand For Something * 04 Secret Society * 05 Zen Machine * 06 Mated * 07 Wildlife * 08 Mimi Gets Mad * 09 Mystified * 10 More Light



By 1985 Utopia were back to their very best AOR form, but sadly they had never recovered commercially from 1980’s ill advised Beatles parody ‘Deface The Music’. Utopia found themselves on little known Passport Records and there must’ve been a Duke Jupiter type of resignation (circa ‘Line Of Your Fire’) about what would happen to this 1985 vinyl, but like Duke, Utopia did however deliver a triumphant AOR disc under very trying circumstances.

The Songs

‘Play This Game’ is one of the blueprint AOR tracks in my book, built around a deliciously simple hook, the trademark Utopia harmonies and grasp of melody secure us a classic slice of chorus driven AOR. Only Rundgren’s cheeky baritone vocals in the first verse give away Utopia’s inherent sense of adventure and not sticking to the script.

‘Style’, sung by Kasim Sulton, could epitomise the ‘new wave AOR’ sub-genre typified by Utopia, The Tubes, The Cars and Cheap Trick. Keyboards dominate and the layered chorus is the stuff we dream about, not to mention Todd’s blistering post chorus solos. ‘Stand For Something’ was probably Sulton’s best composition for Utopia, but Todd gets to sing it! Spiky riffing combines with a call & response chorus for yet another memorable AOR venture. Occasional military styled drumming adds to the drama.

On ‘Secret Society’ Todd takes the Hall & Oates soul direction head-on and comes out on top. Mid-tempo and emotionally charged, it’s unmissable. ‘Zen Machine’ is fairly catchy although not up to the level of previous tracks, yet it’s redeemed by rocking fairly hard at times.

‘Mated’ sees Hall & Oates territory mined a second time, the easy tempo is used as a canvas onto which Utopia paint some of the more soulful AOR vocals this side of ‘Raised On Radio’ era Journey. How this eluded smash single status is a mystery. ‘Wildlife’ delivers some risque lyrics and a serviceable hook, but it loses points for a weak chorus after building expectations with a strong verse / bridge.

‘Mimi Gets Mad’ is much better, a leftover tune from the Rundgren produced Tubes album ‘Love Bomb’. Wistful melodies weave around the relaxed tempo for a new wave flavoured package that’s both entertaining and melodically satisfying. Maybe Fee and the guys shouldn’t have left it off their album?

‘Mystified’ is a little different, imagine Robben Ford or John Mayall with the Beatles on backing vocals! Some creditable guitar work in there, the recurring blues lick deserving special mention. ‘More Light’ manages to inject some pomp synth into the mix, in fact the whole track recalls Utopia’s prog AOR era, something like 80’s Yes meets Ambrosia. Killer vocal attack!

As a closing track it suits well, delivering some of the epic/grand elements we all secretly love. Utopia would reprise this approach for the final two studio tracks they ever recorded, the titanic AOR of ‘Fix Your Gaze’ and ‘Monument’, which graced the 1986 compilation vinyl ‘Trivia’.

In Summary

The early 90’s saw Utopia reunite for a brief Japanese tour, documented on the live ‘Redux’ release. Since then not a sound, and at this writing the band seems to have retired. During their studio career (1977 to 1986) though, the majority of their work (excluding ‘Deface The Music’) seems quite unmissable in terms of new wave influenced AOR. You could do a lot worse than checking them out.


Entire Album (Select Tracks)

Play This Game

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